A Walk Among the Tombstones
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HOLLYWOOD - Down the street, he walked using a stethoscope to listen to his own heart: Severn Darden, legend in his own time.
At the University of Chicago he once ran into Rockefeller Memorial Chapel a step ahead of the campus cops and shouted: "Sanctuary!" When he was starring in the original Second City cast, the Coca-Cola Co. hired him to write advertising copy. He suggested a new slogan: "Eat Coke."
Now Darden is a movie star. "Tell them in Chicago I'm making piles of money and living a life of unexampled luxury in the lap of dissipation," he said. "I like the image. I've always rather hoped to sell out."
After several supporting roles, including a widely praised one as the Russian in "The President's Analyst," Darden has become one of Hollywood's more successful character actors. He is currently playing the role of Dr. Balthazzar in "Justine."
"It's a good role," he said, "but it only has six lines. They are paying me more and more to do less and less. Any day I expect my agent to tell me: Severn, if you don't make this movie they'll pay you a million and a half."
He is also writing jokes for the TV special being prepared by his friend, Mama Cass. "I write them, and Cass likes them, and the network turns them down," he lamented.
"For example, I submitted one about a man walking along a street. He sees another man who has strapped a monkey to a telephone pole and is beating it severely with a rubber truncheon. First man: Why are you treating that helpless animal so? Second man: I paint what I see."
Darden's style often consists of a running commentary on himself, life and the world. "Strangest thing happened on the set today," he mused later that evening at a Japanese restaurant.
"We had a scene to be shot in a brothel. All the chippies were supposed to be 10 years old. The Screen Actors Guild said, you can't hire juveniles to play roles like that. So now do you know what they're doing? They're hiring midgets. Little wizened 60-year-old midgets, and they'll photograph them from behind. I bought an Instamatic to record it for myself."
He looked around the restaurant. "This is the only Japanese restaurant in all of North America that looks like the sort of restaurant that would be patronized by insurance salesmen in Tokyo," he observed. "Now what does that mean?"
Later, at the Beanery, Darden said his next role will be in "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?," a drama of the 1920s dance marathons. Jane Fonda will star. "I play a contestant who dances with a vicious dyke who won't let me stop," he explained. "Quite amusing."
It isn't widely known, Darden said, that he once studied medicine at the University of Chicago and had a point on the body named after him.
"Usually only old and venerable scientists get points on the body named after them," he said, "but I discovered a foolproof way to locate a point on the body and it is named after me: Darden's Point.
"Here is how you locate Darden's Point. Put your little finger on the tip of your nose. Now put your thumb in your ear. With greatest care, extend your index finger straight up so it is parallel with your little finger. If you have followed instructions, the tip of your index finger will have located Darden's Point."
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